Employee discrimination case sets precedent for gay partner benefits

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Gay Lesbian Advocates Defenders (GLAD) applauded a decision this week by the New Hampshire Merrimack Superior Court that the New Hampshire Community Technical College System is committing sexual orientation discrimination when it denies benefits to the partners of gay or lesbian employees.

The decision can be seen as a mandate for the state to provide benefits to the partners of all state employees.

“This case is about equal pay for equal work,” said Karen Loewy, a GLAD lawyer. “As long as same-sex partners are excluded from marriage, an employer cannot use marriage as an eligibility as requirement for benefits. It’s simply not fair.”

Bedford Breen vs. New Hampshire State Technical College System originated with Patricia Bedford and Anne Breen. Ms. Bedford, a nine-year employee of the college system, is Director of Student Services. She and Vivian Knezevich, her partner of 14 years, live in Concord with their three-year-old son Christopher.

Ms Breen, who has worked at the college for 16 years, is Director of Security. She and Kathleen Doyle, her partner of 28 years, live in Salisbury with their 10-year-old son Matthew.

“I’m very happy with the decision and that I’ll be able to provide my family the same benefits and protections that my married colleagues can,” said Ms Breen. “Like anyone with a job, I think it is fair to received the same compensation as my co-workers for doing the same work.”

“Now I’ll be able to cover my partner with health insurance, take time to care for her when she’s sick, or, God forbid, use bereavement leave if I should ever need it,” said Patricia Bedford.

The decision reverses a prior New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights’ finding of no probable cause in claims brought by two state employees who filed sexual orientation discrimination claims. GLAD appealed to the New Hampshire Superior Court of Ms Bedford and Ms Breen.

The Court’s reversal of the Commission states, “New Hampshire Law prohibits marriage between persons of the same sex and does not otherwise provide a means for same-sex couples to legally sanction their committed relationships… Thus, same-sex partners have no ability to ever qualify for the same employment benefits unmarried heterosexual couples may avail themselves of by deciding to legally commit to each other through marriage.”

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